There are a lot of reasons to want to get rid of the NFL preseason. Players get injured, the games can be boring because starters tend to sit out, and there aren’t any real stakes in the outcome.
The NFL isn’t going to let the preseason go anywhere, though. While Falcons owner Arthur Blank said that four preseason games might not be necessary, he also noted it’s still important for players on the fringe of the final 53-man roster. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he enjoys the preseason because it’s a chance to see “hundreds of millions” dollars worth of talent compete on the field (and likely the revenue those games take in). The future of the preseason might change with a new CBA in the coming years — if anything, the number of games will be reduced — but it’s still going to exist in some form.
So we might as well find things to appreciate about it.
Despite its flaws, the preseason can be fun if you examine its awkward beauty. The sloppiness and poor execution can lead to some hilarious moments we don’t get during the regular season.
At times, the 2019 preseason has managed to perfectly capture the essence of exhibition football. Here are six moments from this year, ranked by how preseason-y they are.
6. Ron Rivera called a timeout to help the Bears’ kicking debacle
When you look up the definition of “loyalty,” you’ll see a picture of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera’s smiling face.
In the 1980s and early 90s, Rivera played for the Chicago Bears and won a Super Bowl with them in 1985. Rivera decided to help his former team with a problem that has dominated their entire offseason by icing the Bears’ kicker in their preseason opener.
He was pretty open about doing it, too.
I asked Rivera about icing the kicker in the second quarter and he very transparently admitted he did it to help the Bears. He knows they’re trying to find a kicker.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 9, 2019
Bears head coach Matt Nagy appreciated the gesture:
Matt Nagy said he was not in cahoots with Ron Rivera when Carolina called a timeout before Elliott Fry attempted his 43-yard field. “But I’m glad they did,” Nagy said with a smile.— Jeff Dickerson (@DickersonESPN) August 9, 2019
Elliott Fry handled the pressure that Rivera placed on him, nailing a 43-yard field goal before the half. However, he was cut after the second preseason game. As of now, Eddy Pinerio won the job — even though Nagy doesn’t seem very committed to him.
5. Danny Etling got tossed into the fire with the Falcons
This summer, former LSU quarterback Danny Etling was moved to wide receiver during training camp with the Patriots. Etling is an above-average athlete for the quarterback position — he ran a 4.76 40-yard dash at the 2018 NFL Combine — which made him a candidate for the position switch. With the Patriots drafting Jarrett Stidham this year, there wasn’t much room left for Etling at quarterback.
The move was short-lived, though. Etling was waived after the Patriots’ first preseason game and claimed by the Falcons. Atlanta switched him back to quarterback and gave him all the snaps in the second half of its game against Washington.
A player switching positions twice in a few weeks and then playing an entire half a week after joining a new team? That’s peak preseason.
Etling threw just six passes in an entire half of football, completing two of them. Naturally, he did not have a great grasp of the Falcons’ playbook and looked uncomfortable as a passer.
However, Etling unleashed something that Falcons fans haven’t really seen since Michael Vick was the starting quarterback in the early 2000s: the zone read! Etling completely caught Washington’s defense off guard for a first down on one of them.
Etling was dealt a bad hand and probably won’t make the Falcons’ 53-man final roster, but he’s intriguing enough as an overall athlete that he might make the practice squad.
Players like Etling are the reason that preseason can be worthwhile. He got a shot to show that he can survive a tough test and produced a highlight in the process.
4. A.J. Moore woefully misread a play
The blooper reel is a strong component of any NFL preseason. There are guys who are unsure of their assignments on the field and it can lead to some wacky-looking plays.
Here’s one from the Texans’ game against the Lions. Texans safety A.J. Moore had a free shot at Matthew Stafford on a blitz, but for some reason he turned around and tried to run back in coverage after he passed through the line of scrimmage.
Then Moore doubled back and went toward Stafford, but he had wasted just enough time to miss out on a crushing sack. Stafford ended up completing the pass for a first down.
YOU:: preseason games are boring and they don't mean anything— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) August 22, 2019
These are the plays that leave you kicking yourself as a football player. There was no one to stop him from absolutely leveling Stafford, but he just got confused. Moore only has one season of NFL experience, mostly as a special teamer. Maybe we can excuse this one.
3. Lamar Jackson was distracted by a pick-six during a sideline interview
The vast majority of preseason football is unwatchable, but sometimes things are so bad that it’s hard to look away.
Tanner Lee produced a performance like that in Week 1 of the preseason. Lee dropped back to pass six times. In those six plays he was sacked three times, missed all three of his pass attempts, and threw a pick-six near his own end zone. One week later, he was cut by the Jaguars.
The broadcast captured a funny moment in the middle of the play. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was being interviewed on the sideline during the interception and Jackson paused while he was speaking to watch the rest of the play.
Look at the subtle smile by Jackson — that’s what the preseason is about.
2. Kyler Murray got multiple false starts by clapping
The Cardinals are trying to innovate their offense with coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray leading their team. So far, they just look to be on the cutting edge of false start penalties.
In their second preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, Murray got a false start by clapping, which can be interpreted as simulating the snap — really the only way a quarterback can get pegged with a false start penalty.
Don’t believe? Look for yourself.
Murray had two false starts against the Raiders. The next week, backup quarterback Brett Hundley had two more in the Cardinals game against the Vikings, though Kingsbury doesn’t believe it’s going to be a big issue for the offense throughout the year.
With the Cardinals’ porous offensive line and extremely young skill players, it’s probably going to be a long first year for Kingsbury. This is one area they should be able to fix with relative ease at least.
1. Nathan Peterman was confused by the size of the Canadian field
We were so close to seeing Aaron Rodgers debut in Matt LaFleur’s offense, until a rare situation in Canada prevented that. The Raiders and the Packers traveled to Winnipeg for an international preseason game and then had to play on a shortened field because the turf was damaged when the goalposts were being moved. Canadian football is played with the goalposts about seven yards deep in the end zone, which is obviously different than American football.
None of the starters for either team suited up and they ended up playing on an 80-yard field to avoid injuries. As a result, one of the end zones started at the 10-yard line and the goal line represented the back of the end zone.
This caused Raiders backup quarterback Nathan Peterman to have some trouble throwing the ball down the field — but it also gave him a chance to add to his NFL legacy.
Nathan Peterman has now thrown two passes into the back corner of the end zone on this drive...which here in Winnipeg is 10 yards out of bounds.— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) August 23, 2019
The first throw was at least within the field of play, but he didn’t give the receiver room to bring the ball in.
The second was a way out of bounds. To be fair to Peterman, it is a bit disorienting seeing the field end before the goal line.
At least the Raiders can go back to their home stadium, which doubles as a baseball field for half of the season.